CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Positive drug tests for American workers hit a two-decade high in 2021, all while employers struggled to fill empty positions.

“We do see an increase in drug screen positivity rates,” said Amanda Wright, director of business development and operations for Spherion, a national recruiting and staffing organization with locations across Central Pennsylvania.

Spherion screens for up to ten types of drugs based on the company’s expectations. Recently, Wright said a high number of positives have come back for one drug in particular.

“Marijuana would be the guilty party on that one,” said Wright. “You’re going to have a lot of individuals right now that have the medical marijuana card and there’s also individuals that use marijuana that don’t have the card, but perceive it as nearly legal and so acceptable use.” 

Staffing shortages are putting new pressure on employers.

“A lot of companies are evaluating what’s most critical for their workplace,” said Wright.

There’s an urgency to hire, and paired with the growing legality of marijuana, Wright said some barriers are coming down.

“A lot of individual companies are making the decision to eliminate marijuana from the panel, as a result of increased use of marijuana on a medicinal basis,” said Wright. “Having the drug screen come back positive, even though they’re using it on a medicinal purpose, it has to go to a lab and it extends the time frame that they’re going to be unable to start working which risks losing the candidate.” 

No matter what shows up on your drug test, Wright said the expectation is still to go to work drug-free.

“I think it’s really important for businesses to evaluate the safety sensitivity of a position before determining whether or not it’s appropriate to adjust their drug screening,” said Wright. “If a position is safety sensitive, it’s critical that we are careful in how we address drug use outside of work, because any impairment in a safety sensitive role is very, very dangerous. So, it’s important we continue to focus on safety.”